JOYCE MCMILLAN on WOODY SEZ at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, for The Scotsman, 31.1.12
4 stars ****
FROM ONE GREAT DEPRESSION to the next, the story changes, yet remains the same. Melting Pot Theatre of New York have been in Scotland before, with their musical retelling of the life of Woodrow Wilson Guthrie, born in Oklahoma exactly 100 years ago, died in New York State, 1967.
Yet there’s something both poignant and timely about their 2012 visit to Celtic Connections, as they lead audiences at the Tron through the sheer harshness of Woody’s early life, blighted first by his mother’s mental illness, which Woody was to inherit; and then by the economic catastrophe of climate change and Depression, which swept the whole class of small farmers to which he belonged off the land, onto the roads of America, and into abject poverty and hunger.
As the world knows, Woody’s path of political resistance lay through music, and through the reworking of the hillbilly folk tradition he had inherited into songs for the times he lived in. There’s nothing fancy about the approach to Woody’s biography taken by David M. Lutken and the four -strong Melting Pot company; on a stage backed by faded dustbowl landscapes, and vivid monochrome images of Woody himself, they tell the story of his life, and drive it along with a series of powerful songs, from This Train Is Bound For Glory to the iconic This Land Is Your Land.
Every member of the cast, though, is a terrific musician and singer, soaring briskly and beautifully through song after song, on guitar and banjo, harmonica and double bass, fiddle and zither; and placing the music right at centre stage. “The gambling man is rich, and the working is man is poor,” they sing; and the Glasgow audience cheer them to the echo, celebrating a great voice of humanity, compassion and common sense, echoing down the decades, as working people across the world once again pay a bitter price, for the greed and folly of the rich.